Not only home to signed memorabilia from the world’s best footballers, Icons also has a huge range of Olympic stars in its roster of names. With the London 2012 Olympic Games in full flow, our man Al Horner visited the Olympic Park to witness a morning session that featured qualification heats in men’s discus, women’s 200m hurdles and more. Here’s his report…
It couldn’t be more fitting that the London 2012 Olympic Games have been characterised by some incredible upsets and against the odds triumphs. After all, who would have predicted this time last year, with the capital engulfed in riots, that these Games would be as ceremonious a success as they have been so far. Londoners have watched the capital transformed into a lucid dreamland – its parks and pubs packed with whooping spectators, its tubes and buses brimming with excited tourists, its televisions screens filled with actual talent instead of the usual parade of reality TV stars.
After a weekend that saw thrilling wins from Jessica Ennis and Mo Farrah for Team GB, not to mention another storming victory for Usain Bolt in the 100m final, I was hoping for another exciting day in the Olympic Park as I made my way to Stratford on Monday morning (6 August).
As you enter the park you’re flanked by volunteer staff who despite the hour – I thought I could avoid the crowds if I got there at 7am. I was horribly, horribly wrong – are cheery and awake. The site itself is huge and impressive, its centrepiece a sort of gloomy Martian helter-skelter known as the Olympic Orbit tower. The stadium is also remarkable. For all the noise made about the Games’ corporate tie-ins, I half expected seats made of congealed Happy Meal toys and stairs lined with expired Visa debit cards. But inside, corporate branding is practically nowhere to be seen – and rightly so.
Also heartening was the attendance for the morning’s session, which in stark contrast to media reports about empty seats and unsold tickets, was almost entirely sold out. For a morning session made up of qualifying heats with few big name competitors, it was brilliant to see, even if it did mean practically having to crowd-surf my way to the loo in between heats.
Across two and a half hours, I witnessed women’s shotput, men’s discus, women’s 200m hurdles, women’s 1500m and an incredible men’s 800m performance by Kenyan middle distance runner David Rudisha, who of course has since gone on to win the 800m final and break Sebastian Coe’s record. By 400m, he was so far ahead of the pack he could have stopped to light a cigar on the Olympic torch and still eased to victory.
The undoubted highlight of the day, however, was Team GB discus thrower Lawrence Okoye, having struggled with his first and second attempts and facing stern opposition from German and Dutch competitors. But just as it looked not to be his day, Okoye threw an impressive 65.28m, catapulting him qualification and sending the stadium into a frenzy of celebration. He may not have fared too well in Tuesday’s final but he’ll never forget the electric atmosphere as his last gasp throw brought 80,000 people to their feet, capping an incredible morning.
When the Games draw to a close on Sunday, it’ll leave in its wake a number of questions. Will it, as the tag line goes, inspire a generation, ushering in a new era of British sporting success? Will anyone ever oust Usain Bolt as the greatest sprinter of all time? Will women’s sports like football and boxing now be elevated to the same status as their men’s iterations? One thing for sure is it’s been a fortnight few Brits will ever forget – and one I was glad to have witnessed first-hand.
By Al Horner